Thrusting Leadership On Tiawan Saye Gongloe, Et Al

By James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 3, 2002

"The only guide to getting involved in political activities is that the objectives of those activities should be LAWFUL and the manner of achieving them must be LAWFUL. In this way the civil society can play a key role in the building of a just, human, and stable social order within the Mano River Basin. This is a necessary pre-condition for the attainment of peace and development within the Mano River Basin. This means that VIOLENCE is NOT an option for the civil society movement within the Mano River Basin." Yes indeed! These are the exact words of prominent Liberian Human Rights lawyer, Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe.

Speaking to the 2nd Mano River Union Civil Society Movement Conference that was held this past March 27 – 29 in neighboring Guinea, he also said: "The participation of the civil society in violence directly or indirectly runs counter to the objectives of attaining peace and development within the Mano River Basin; therefore violence no matter how small the scale should not be adopted as part of the problem solving methods of the civil society movement within the Mano River Basin. NON - VIOLENT actions must therefore be the only activities for peace and development. This proposition is off course for the future because the past thirteen (13) years has seen the active involvement of civil society members, mainly the younger members, in violent activities for the attainment of political objectives. Tens of thousands of young people within the Mano River Basin have been unfortunately used by some evil-minded men to destroy whatever development was made within the basin."

As factual and straightforward as these remarks were, the government of President Charles Taylor just couldn't stand them, leading to the lawyer's arbitrary arrest and illegal detention. After spending at least one night in one of the President's jails [dungeons] in which suspected government agents reportedly manhandled him in a brutal manner, causing him to apparently lost hearing in one ear and urinating blood, Counselor Gongloe was subsequently transferred to the S.D.A. Cooper hospital in Monrovia for medical treatment. But after the loud outcry of local human rights activists and other prominent members of the civil society, buttressed by international protests led by the United States (US), Counselor Gongloe has since been released into the "warm arms" of Archbishop Michael K. Francis of the Catholic Diocese in Monrovia. The Archbishop is also a well-known advocate and public figure when it comes to human rights issues in Liberia, I might add.

While this obviously is very good news for all of us that had been praying for him for the past few days, there is still an urgent need to undertake a complete and thorough investigation into the ugly circumstances that led to his unfortunate arrest to ensure that this never happens again to any other person, and most importantly, so that the truth can come out at last. It would certainly be a good idea for the Taylor government to take care of all Counselor Gongloe's personal medical expenses, since it was their agents that brutalized him.

The United Nations (UN) and the US ought to take the lead on this issue because they have the moral obligation to do so. Furthermore, in today's global community, in which there have already been successful efforts in establishing various courts, like, the international criminal court in the Hague and the Special Court [Tribunal] in Sierra Leone, that would pass judgment on the most grievous crimes of war and against humanity, governments must be held directly accountable for the flagrant violations of human rights as in the case of the Counselor and countless others in Liberia. And there should be no ambiguity about this - plain and simple! The officially sanctioned business of throwing innocent citizens behind bars before asking them any questions has got to stop, one way or the other. This is a critical situation that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union Civil Society Movement group that had invited him can't remain silent or indifferent about. They should take a stand and join others in speaking out against this kind of injustice.

After all, Counselor Gongloe certainly was not the one responsible for sending more than 250,000 people, including Liberians, to their early graves just for the sake of power and material greed - HELLO!

No matter how one looks at it, the Taylor government did make a huge mistake by arresting, detaining, harassing and torturing the highly respected Liberian lawyer and others for no good reason. But they just won't admit it!

Without realizing the certain backlash and negative impact of their wicked actions against the fine lawyer of international status [maybe because they just weren't smart enough], the Liberian government has all but definitely made HEROES out of men like Counselor Gongloe; New Deal acting chairman, Nigbah Wiaplah; Movement for the Defense of Human Rights, executive director, Aloysius Toe, as well as other gallant sons and daughters of "conscience", whose only collective crime is to speak the truth in the supreme interests of their country's badly traumatized masses.

They, like every other Liberians, including those serving this morally bankrupt government, have every right under the Constitution and Laws of the Republic of Liberia to express themselves freely without intimidation, especially as it relates to important national or sub-regional issues. I could quote specific parts of the Liberian Constitution here that guarantee them that RIGHT, but it really won"t make a difference - not to this regime. But the most important thing to understand here is that Counselor Gongloe and the others in no way have violated the laws of the land; neither have they incited the people to violence, as the administration wrongly seems to be imagining.

While I personally do not know the good Counselor, I can confidently say that he has always advocated NON-VIOLENCE to resolve the nation's long-running senseless crises as well as to lessen tension within the Mano River Union. Now, why do I say this? Simply, because I have read many of his speeches very carefully in their entirety, and to be honest with you, they were brilliant to say the least. His speeches actually give away the innermost thoughts of this humble man from Nimba County, who, like many of his compatriots, want nothing more than to see their country, Liberia, emerge from its current mess "united and strong in purpose". If words should mean anything (and they surely do), then his speeches portray him as the kind of natural material that "patriots and nationalists" are made of. Maybe (just maybe) that's why the NPP government doesn't want to take the chance and allow the Liberian people to get to know him much better!

As far away as many of us in the Diaspora are from our homeland, we still could feel the undeserved pain and suffering that this poor man and his immediate family members were going through. It is natural that anyone with a good heart and conscience would feel the same way, don't you think? But I guess, he and a few others just don’t have a choice - not when their nation has sung so low and is craving for genuine leadership.

As it has always been in the course of every nation on earth, there surely comes a time when historical events abruptly forces certain individuals to step up to the plate and bear the cumbersome burden of LEADERSHIP. It has happened to many individuals around the world. I'm very sure that the Counselor is quite familiar with some of their names. And when the people come calling, there's usually no way for that person to resist their open demand for sound leadership. At that point, faith (in one's God) then becomes the only thing to hang on tightly to.

As events continue to unravel daily in the now "dark" West African Republic, it seems like that heavy burden [of leadership] is rudely being placed on the shoulders of Counselor Gongloe and others, who have been in the vanguard of the continuous struggle to give Liberians what they now want - a decent government built on democratic principles and official tolerance of normally diverse ideas. And so, we must all continue to pray diligently to God to give them strength in their darkest hours of need.

Therefore, no matter what the notorious Taylor government says or does, it definitely can't control destiny - it just doesn't have the power, or better yet, the moral authority to do so. It may succeed in inflicting physical pain on the Counselor and others; it may even succeed in torturing them mentally; but by God's help, this ruthless government would never succeed in breaking their spirits - NEVER - because they are joined together with the souls of many others in the same cause of freedom and democracy!

Although Counselor Gongloe has temporarily been set free - thanks to Archbishop Francis and everyone else who may have played a role in convincing the Taylor government to let him go - but his and many others' lives could still be endangered. He certainly was not the first nor the last to have been treated in this crude way by this faceless NPP government, but the way in which he was particularly mistreated [brutalized] by the security forces under the command of the top "key-stone" cop, Paul Mulbah, has no doubt made him a national symbol of President Taylor's continuing repression of anyone that he sees as a threat to his barbaric rule.

If there was any doubt that the sitting government in Monrovia was really NOT serious about peace and reconciliation at this time, despite putting up a public show, then the Gongloe ordeal should immediately dispel that, because it could [again] happen to another person, including those that might be planning to attend the conference in July. And this is definitely not the way to reconcile a divided nation! In fact, the government's security agents could be at work right now as you are reading this article, given the reality of the government's so-called "state of emergency", which some people have correctly branded as a farce.

Since the wrongful detention and unlawful imprisonment of the Counselor, Liberians and the world community have added another terminology to their ever increasing vocabulary - "prison democracy" - a term mentioned by some of President Taylor's most senior cabinet officials in reference to the brutal beatings of the prominent lawyer while he was being held forcibly in jail under the government's watch. It is a completely ridiculous and foolish concept that makes light of what has actually happened to such a prominent Liberian citizen. It also says a whole lot about this administration and how it governs - something that's definitely worth looking into, in regards to the Constitution!

The thought that a "prisoner" could be beaten up in jail because they may have failed to pay some sort of fine imposed on them by other inmates is very scary. Moreover, it reinforces what most people already know about this government: that it is grossly incapable of governing and wouldn't survive for another day without using brute force to silence its perceived enemies, even though it claims to have the popular support of the Liberian people on its side. It has done it before and it'll surely do it all over again if given the opportunity. In fact, if it has the popular support of the Liberian people, then why wouldn't the Taylor government allow the people to freely assemble as they would wish? The answer is quite simple - it is running scared of them, nothing else! It is now clear that the "people" the government usually refer to for support are non other than members of its heartless security network, because the real people are solidly behind the respected lawyer and other democratic proponents.

But the highly corrupt and immoral NPP government must know that it would be held DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE and ACCOUNTABLE for the welfare of Counselor Gongloe, his immediate family and the others that it has recently picked up since the so-called "state of emergency" was declared.

Talking about the state of emergency, I've always felt that Liberia had been in that sad state from the time Mr. Taylor and his cohorts invaded the country from the Ivory Coast and shot their way into power. That's exactly why his "official" declaration is largely seen by some clever folks as a deliberate attempt by the rogue regime to severely clamp down on unsuspecting Liberians, albeit the rather strange on/off war between the government and the little known rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Interestingly, the recent assassination in Ghana of a prominent Liberian dissident, General Alfred T. Glay, near the Buduburam camp, an act allegedly committed by Mr. Taylor's ruthless thugs, brings a new dimension to the country's nagging conflict as distance no longer seems to be a problem for his paid henchmen. And if it is at all true and can be proven with hard evidence that the President (Taylor) was directly involved in any way in the alleged assassination of another Liberian on foreign soil (as in the case of General Glay), then something must be done to stop him now before it is too late. Based on his past record of violently eliminating his critics or detractors with impunity, we cannot afford to take things for granted any longer, because anyone could become an instant target or victim.

And people who really know Charles Taylor on a personal level would tell you up front that his erratic behavior goes way back to his early youthful days in Arthington, when he was correctly nicknamed, "Bossy", in reference to his stubbornness of always wanting to be THE boss, no matter what. The same experience could be shared by people who knew him personally from Ricks Institute, a previously fine Baptist institution that have produced many outstanding individuals (Liberians and foreigners alike); individuals that were usually upright morally. But again, we're talking about Charles Taylor, the master con artist, who, up to this day, has been lucky to evade the long arms of the United States justice system after breaking jail for his alleged embezzlement of about a million dollars while serving as director-general of a government agency under the late Samuel Doe.

What still is a mystery to many, especially Liberians, is how he (Taylor) was able to leave Boston (Massachusetts), where he was being held temporarily on a petition from the Doe government to be extradited back to Liberia on the above charges; be trained in Libya; and finally launch his demonic war on Liberia, at a difficult time when the US and Libya were seen as major antagonists. Again, only a person of his character could have pulled it off so smoothly and continue to wreck havoc on others without regards to their precious lives.

You see, if he were just an ordinary Liberian, I probably would care less about his behavior or luxurious lifestyle. But my God, he's the President of impoverished Liberia, and worst still, he seems to be strongly determined to take the entire country down with him. That just isn't right. Why some people, particularly Liberians, don't see evil in this man and those in his immediate inner circle, is beyond my comprehension, but their day too would come hopefully soon.

As the UN prepares to reach a decision on the existing embargos and sanctions regime imposed on the Liberian government for the President's alleged gun-running and other serious criminal activities in neighboring Sierra Leone, it also ought to seriously consider this government's human rights record. In fact, just on the basis of human rights alone, both the US and UN could impose new sanctions or strengthen current ones as a means of holding the Taylor regime's and LURD's feet to the fire for their consistent abuses of those rights. The Liberian people deserve that much after suffering for so many years under these evil forces that are hell bend on high-jacking the much delayed democratic process in Liberia!

On the same note, I'd also like to appeal to the Ghanaian government of President John Kufuor to launch a full investigation into the death [or possible assassination] of the late General [Glay] so that the hard truth can be made known to the general public. This certainly would go a long way in fostering good relations between the two countries in the not too distant future when Liberia hopefully becomes a functioning democracy.

Needless to say that if the Taylor government has a case against anyone, the government MUST act with the most restraints; treat its so-called prisoners humanely; and most of all, let the law run its full course, letting the chips fall where they may. His government should realize that by constantly harassing, torturing, brutalizing and using other insane methods to punish or eliminate its opponents, it's really doing nothing more than "unknowingly" making heroes of the victims

Last, but not the least, I'd like to say to Counselor Gongloe and all those that have lately become victims of the NPP government's apparent witch-hunt, please find peace within yourselves and take consolation in the strong words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as he himself was being persecuted for spreading the gospel of his father (God): "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they ['re] do [ing]". But how could a man that professes to be an obedient Christian treat his fellow human beings so cruelly after prostrating himself in public? There's no one answer to this question, but some people are just like that, I guess! And as it is also said quite frequently, "God does not like ugly!" [meaning literally, "God does not like evil!"] and surely has a way of punishing such people for their sinful actions.

To my fellow Liberians, I say, if there was any one issue or person that we were looking for to rally around, then this single event involving the savage beatings of the prominent Liberian lawyer is it, because it could certainly happen to any of us. As the savage beatings of Counselor Gongloe and the apparent assassination of General Glay have shown, no Liberian is safe anymore, no matter where you are.

But the naked truth is that no government, regardless of how popularly it was elected "democratically", has the absolute right to inflict such pain and sufferings on its own citizens with impunity forever - and the Taylor government is no exception. It must therefore be held fully accountable for its wicked deeds as we rally around the Counselor and others to reclaim our beloved country!

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